India is a nation of more than a billion people. Talent abounds in every corner of this country. However, due to the misconstrued mindset toward sport, where it’s viewed more as a hobby than a developmental exercise, playing isn’t given close to enough importance as it should be. There is also the issue of a shoddy grassroots-level sporting infrastructure in India. Talent needs to be identified and nurtured at a very young age. Just For Kicks (JFK) is an organization which while focusing mainly on the holistic development of children, also look to bridge the gap between the economically backward and the professional footballing structure in India.
Editor-in-Chief of EADF Anubhav Sarker caught up with Just For Kicks (JFK) Pune City Lead Rishi Nandwani for a quick chat.
Anubhav: Hey Rishi, welcome to EADF. Before we get started, tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how exactly JFK came into being.
Rishi: Hey Anubhav, nice talking to you. So yes, I’m 24 years old, and I graduated with a B.Tech in Biotechnology in 2014. After realizing that there wasn’t much scope in the field other than research, I applied to the Teach For India fellowship. I got selected and taught class 8, 9 and 10 kids in a government school in Kondhwa, Pune, for two years. This was when I came across Just For Kicks. Since football had played a huge part in my life when I was growing up in Nigeria, I was instantly hooked. So during the course of my fellowship, I was also helping JFK set up as a full-fledged, sustainable organization. Right after my fellowship, I was offered the role of Pune Lead.
How Just for Kicks started is a very interesting story. The founder, Vikas Plakkot, wanted to teach his kids some essential life skills. However, he realized that this just wasn’t going to happen in the present education system. It was very teacher-student oriented and that would not help in the all round development of children. So he came up with the idea of Just for Kicks to help inculcate team spirit, critical thinking and other important attributes in children.
Anubhav: What do you think makes this program a success?
Rishi: To answer that I’m going to have to define the program. The JFK program is a year long academic program run in association with schools. We hire professional coaches who each conduct 48 sessions per team throughout the course of the year. The coaches themselves are trained by JFK in life skills to become better mentors to the kids. Coaching is just one aspect, another is the gear. JFK provides 20 balls, place markers, cones, bibs, and pumps. We also provide studs, shin pads, and goalkeeper gloves. All we’re looking for is a little push from parents and the administration to send their kids to play the sport.
Another thing we do is conduct a tournament between JFK teams once a year. The teams play 5-8 matches which are conducted in a highly professional environment. We get scouts to come down and watch these games and hopefully pick about 10 out of 100 kids who play. We also tie up with corporate partners and hand out awards and recognition to the kids. This tournament is a platform for the kids to showcase what they’ve learned in the course of a year.
JFK aims to help in the overall growth of a Child’s personality through a holistic approach.
Anubhav: There aren’t many organizations like JFK presently in India, promoting youth football. What do you think are the major hurdles to the development of the youth footballing scene?
Rishi: The biggest problem is the mindset toward sports. We need to understand that sports help mould an individual. Also, we need to change how we view careers in sport. We need people to teach kids the sport. Big clubs set up grassroots programs for a few days and pick up the good kids. But we need longer, more sustainable programs that teach young kids how to play the sport. Clubs should stop thinking of grassroots programs as a box to be ticked. They need to invest more resources into this avenue.
Anubhav: How many kids are enrolled in the program? What does their daily schedule look like?
Rishi: We have around 3000 kids enrolled in six locations across the country. In Pune, we have 890 kids enrolled of which about 440 are girls! We have a very good sex ratio across all centers. In terms of their schedule, they have a 90-minute practice session two days a week either in the morning or the evening. On other days, they mostly train by themselves.
Anubhav: What plans does JFK have for the upcoming years?
Rishi: Our primary goal is the all-round development of children. We aim to expand our operations and hopefully impact about 15,000-20,000 children. JFK has also opened an Under-8 division to help identify talent at a very young age. The annual tournament will be longer, with 8 games. It will kick off in October and be a more prolonged affair. This allows kids to reflect on what happened during a game, work on it in practice, and come back stronger than before. We hope to tie up with clubs and become a grassroots football development platform. At the end of the day, the aim of JFK is that there is no need for JFK. We want the government to see the impact that we have and put a program in place that helps reach all kids all across the country.
Anubhav: With the U-17 World Cup coming up, what are your hopes and expectations for the tournament?
Rishi: I hope that we conduct the tournament well. This can be a signal of intent and tell the world that India takes it’s football seriously. I personally will be taking the kids to watch games in Bombay. It can be a huge source of inspiration for them. This tournament will also challenge traditional occupation paradigms. We will have to see if we are ready to push the next generation to become athletes, fitness coaches and not just doctors and engineers.
Anubhav: Are there any instances of amazing grit and tenacity that stand out to you from the little ones?
Rishi: There are many instances; I’m going to stick to just two or three.
There’s a school called Sunrise EMS in Kharadi, Pune. The girls’ team there registered a year after the boys. They were a bit hesitant at first, but they grew to love the game after playing. The problem was that they didn’t have money for transportation to get to tournaments. So they went around their community, asking parents for money to achieve their dream. In a few days, they got enough money for transportation and also to buy a set of balls for themselves. 7 out of the 10 girls on that team are now enrolled in a scholarship program at Pune’s Avasara Academy.
Another amazing transformation that I’ve witnessed is that of a seventh standard boy whose dad committed suicide right in front of his eyes. The boy had so much pent up emotion and no release. He resorted to beating up kids as a result. Someone referred him to JFK, and his whole life changed. He now had a constructive outlet to channel, which resulted in him becoming a better human being all-around. He even ended up finishing second in class tenth with a 90% score!
Then there’s the Kothrud Wolves. These are a group of eleven-year-olds who have won the JFK title three years in a row now. They wake up every day at 4:30 am to practice. They have really impacted the lives of those around them far more than they could have ever imagined. Their parents wake up at 4 to cook food for them, their teachers and principal are also completely invested in the program. They now coach the Under-8 division at their own school! 6 players on this team are also class toppers! This just goes to show the kind of constructive impact that sport can have on a student’s life.
***PART 1***CLICK THE LINK TO WATCH PART 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1mg2N0ev_8How our journey at the Tata…
Anubhav: These stories are giving me goosebumps Rishi. It’s amazing what you all have done so far. To finish up with the interview, is there anything you’d like to tell the EADF community?
Rishi: We’re looking for supporters who really believe in what we do. If any of you would like to contribute to JFK in any way, reach out to us and let us know. There’s a multitude of ways through which you can contribute. One way is donating 500 rupees a month to support a child, or if you’d like to put in some hours as a coach on the pitch, you’re always welcome. Drops of water make an ocean, so please help us take the initiative forward and put Indian football on the map.
Interview edited by Abhisheik Ramachandran
To reach out to Just For Kicks , visit www.jfkindia.org
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